Today the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) has published its report on data sharing and linkage across government 

For the last five years, OSR has been monitoring and commenting on data sharing and linkage across government, producing reports to understand issues and identify opportunities to move the wider system forward.   

During this time there has been some excellent progress in creating linked datasets and making them available for research, analysis and statistics across the UK.  The pandemic also helped to change mindsets and highlight opportunities that exist for greater collaboration and sharing. Indeed, an emerging theme from OSR’s latest review was the overall willingness to share and link data across government and public bodies. The benefits and value of doing so are widely recognised. 

But with so much recognition of the value of sharing and linking data, why do significant issues and barriers still exist to progress? 

Through speaking with stakeholders across the data sharing and linkage landscape, OSR found there is still uncertainty about how to share and link data in a legal and ethical way, and about public perception of data sharing and linkage. There is also a lack of clarity about data access processes and data availability and standards across government. Together, these factors can lead to a nervousness to share and link data and can cause blockages or delays.  The picture is not the same in every area of government. Some areas have moved faster than others and we have found that culture and people are key determinants of progress.  

In the report, OSR summarises its findings within four ‘themes’ and discuss these themes in the context of both barriers and opportunities:  

  1. Public engagement and social licence: The importance of obtaining a social licence for data sharing and linkage and how public engagement can help build understanding of whether/how much social licence exists and how it could be strengthened. We also explore the role data security plays here.
  2. People: The risk appetite and leadership of key decision makers, and the skills and availability of staff.
  3. Processes: The non-technical processes that govern how data sharing and linkage happens across government.
  4. Technical: The technical specifics of datasets, as well as the infrastructure to support data sharing and linkage.

OSR’s work considers four possible ‘future scenarios’ for data sharing and linkage, set five years from now.  These stylised versions of possible futures help to bring out the impact on public good of acting on (or not acting on) the current barriers that exist to data sharing and linkage. 

Based on this exploratory thinking and its interviews with stakeholders, OSR makes 16 recommendations that, if realised, will enable government to confront ingrained challenges, and ultimately to move towards greater data sharing and linkage for the public good.  

Helen Miller-Bakewell, OSR’s Head of Development and Impact, said:

“Data sharing and linkage in government now stands at a crossroads. Unless significant changes are implemented, we are concerned the progress that has been made could be lost and the potential for data sharing and linkage to deliver public good will not be achieved.”

She continued:

“This review points the way to build on recent successes and to confront the more ingrained challenges, drawing on inspirational examples of data sharing and linkage. This aims help individuals and organisations within government explore the possible implications of the choices they make now.”


Additional Information 

  1. The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) is the regulatory arm of the UK Statistics Authority. OSR provides independent regulation of all official statistics produced in the UK assessed against the Code of Practice for Statistics. The Code of Practice for Statistics applies to everyone in an organisation producing official statistics, including senior leaders, policy professionals, communications staff and other analysts. Compliance with the Code gives confidence that published government statistics have public value, are high quality, and are produced by people and organisations that are trustworthy.
  2. OSR is an advocate and champion for data sharing and linkage done in a secure way. For over the last five years, OSR has undertaken work to highlight progress and identify opportunities for the statistical system. In 2018 the Joining Up Data report was published, followed by an update to this in 2019, with this review on data sharing and linkage launched in 2022. 

If you would like to talk to OSR about data sharing, data linkage or any other element of our work please get in touch with us at